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Old 11-03-2006, 11:45 AM   #405
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Default Sam Donnellon | Neil Smith pays the Flyers a visit

ON WEDNESDAY, Colin Campbell was the soup of the day. Last night, Neil Smith sauntered into the Wachovia Center press box, a recent

escapee from the broadcast booth, now employed as a Dallas Stars scout.

That's former NHL general manager Neil Smith to you.

Formerly of the Rangers, most recently of the Islanders. Looking to get back to what he feels he does best: run a hockey team.

"I'm not going to lie," he said. "I'm happy doing this, but when the time is right, I hope someone thinks of me that way."

It's an interesting choice of words, given the events that have taken place around the

Flyers' organization over the last 2 weeks. Time is right? The

timing of Bob Clarke's resignation couldn't have come at a worse time in this modern,

salary-capped NHL. The firing of a Stanley Cup-winning coach so quickly into the season seems quirky, too.

Time is right? The personnel decisions for this team had been made. The wriggle room for the rest of the year is about the width of a penalty box. As Smith said: "The thing with these general managers now is that there is not much maneuverability. In the old days, we made mistakes, we buried them. You can't do that now."

So this is what Paul Holmgren has: a team with little confidence and a propensity to trip out of the gate each game, as it did again in last night's 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay.

This is what else he has: a team captain who really isn't a captain. Peter Forsberg might be the best hockey player on the planet, but last night, he stole a page right out of Eric Lindros' "How Not to Be Seen" manual. Remember when "E" slipped out the back door during the Stanley Cup finals? Well last night, after single-handedly sabotaging his young team's third-period

comeback with a slew of penalties that left his team searching for a tying goal while shorthanded, Forsberg did the same thing.

Not exactly, "Follow me, boys."

Yo, Keith. Sure that head of yours doesn't feel better?

So what's a Homer to do? How does Paul Holmgren wipe the

interim tag from his title? How does he prove to Ed Snider, who has already offered his job to Campbell, only to be refused, that he is the guy to right the wrongs and get this team playing to preseason expectations?

Especially since, as Holmgren said last night, "I was part of the team that brought all those guys here."

"There are enough positives

to this," he said. "I think we all believe that this team is better than the record shows. Maybe we're wrong, but right now

we're thinking we have to get this group headed in the right


Or at least headed in the same direction. Right now, they run

into one another a lot, seem

surprised to see one another at times, and overall, play NHL hockey as if they all just met 5 minutes ago on the local pond. Pucks fired over and wide of the net, rushed passes that just missed - "Our confidence right now is not very high," Simon Gagne said afterward. "And it seems it falls really quick if the other team starts out playing

better than us.

"The beginning of the third was pretty much how we have to play. But we need to do it for 60 minutes. And you need to learn that."

The Flyers pulled from a 3-0 third-period hole to 3-2 before their rally was muted by Forsberg's repeated trips to the box. Clearly some of it was due to some selective and overly aggressive refereeing by Marc Joannette, but Forsberg begged for his second unsportsmanlike call. Thing is, that might have made sense in the first period, when his team needed juice. In the third, down by a goal, it was just stupid.

Still, neither Joannette nor Forsberg coughed up the insurance goal to Vincent Lecavalier behind his own goalie-less net. That would be Joni Pitkanen, one of their few defensemen who qualifies as a veteran.

"I think if you are a hockey person analyzing the Flyers' organization from a player-personnel setup, they're far from a mess," Smith said. "I actually thought they were going to be the best team in the league last year. I thought they had done the best job coming out of the lockout. I thought they were going to be one of the contenders for the Cup. I said it on TV, I can't deny it."

And why would he?

Those are the kind of words that give us hope.

And get GMs hired.

Or maybe - if Holmgren can improve things quick enough - un-interimmed.

"Right now I'm in the position," Holmgren said. "Nobody has told me I can't make trades to make the team better. That's what we're trying to do. I look at it as an opportunity that no one else has, frankly."
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